When I moved from France to the UK in early 2016, my expectations of banking here were rather low. I was somewhat used to cumbersome processes, unsolvable paradoxes (“you need an address to open an account, but you need an account to rent a place”), long waiting times to reach customer services, and transactions lost in translation (a card payment could take 3 to 4 days before it appeared on my app).

Little did I know, the British banking industry was actually ahead of the game: instant transactions, zero need to visit a branch, a contactless card without having to ask for it, and 100% of features available on my mobile phone! At the time, I was a very ‘easy-to-delight’ customer.

The European banking market: millions of customers waiting to be amazed

After this revelation in the UK, it felt like I had taken a few steps back in time when I joined a large banking digital transformation project outside of the UK. My role as a usability testing manager led me to meet a large number of customers and one consistent finding that I kept coming across was the low expectations they had for their bank.

When asking these customers for their opinion on the new interface being developed by the bank, common reactions were along the lines of: “Well, it’s a bank website, how great can it be?”

Even more alarming, customers also failed to perform simple tasks on the new site, for example, searching for old transactions, or adding a new payee. And they blamed themselves “I’m just not good with computers” or “I’m sure it’s there somewhere but I’m not very good at finding it”

Similar findings arose from tests that were not user interface-related, e.g. when customers were asked how long they thought the bank needed to process a transfer or cash in a cheque, and most customers thought longer periods than what the bank actually needed.

From technology-led to user-centric

The main challenge during this transformation project was the technology we used for the new front-end apps that had been selected prior to defining the desired user experience, which came as an “out-of-the-box” solution. This left little space to re-engineer the user experience for customers.

Testing the new site with customers and gathering their feedback was the UX team’s main lever to make it as user-centric as possible.

Navigation: account-led or task-led?

The solution came with a built-in account-based navigation structure. This requires the user to select an account from the homepage before they gain access to all the services related, such as making a payment, adding a payee, downloading a statement, etc.

The UX designers working on this project debated this for weeks. A task-led navigation system seemed more natural from a user perspective, but this would have required lots of custom development.

Usability testing helped us understand that customers actually don’t think in terms of account-led or task-led in the first place. We invited two groups of customers to test both navigation solutions and the results were clear. Both approaches made sense and after a few minutes using the site, customers knew where to find the features they needed.

The development team could then focus on other areas of improvement, saving both time and money by avoiding unnecessary technical re-work, leaving the designers to focus on other issues such as location and the hierarchy of features in the page itself.

Taxonomy and tone of voice: from “bank talk” to “customer talk”

The test sessions always included a set of pre-questions before jumping into questions about the interface. We consistently asked customers to let us know how they would define the products or tasks they were about to test.

The majority of customers could explain the difference between a standing order and a direct debit, however, various local specificities made it challenging. For example, the new solution included a UK-like mandatory distinction between “payments” (external) and “transfer” (between someone’s own accounts), but this did not exist in their market so we knew we had to fix it.

Talking with customers allowed us to translate the terms used by the bank into language that would be familiar to them, e.g. ‘send money’, ‘move money’ and ‘regular payments’.

Optimal conversion rates

One main objective of this digital transformation project was to allow consumers to apply for a large range of products online, with minimal friction.

For example, let’s take a look at the loan application journey.

The UX team had already made an effort to whittle the fields down, so the experience was much more simplistic. However, results showed that it was not the fields or the pages that remained an obstacle, it was the ambiguity of various phrases used and user interface (UI) issues.

One major finding was that tick boxes were often ignored; even when they offered options which the consumers were searching for.

Additionally, further UI components were also misunderstood, for example, multiple choice dropdown lists or the possibility to select several options.

After spending almost 6 hours testing with 8 customers, we managed to identify the issues and figured they could easily be solved. Once these solutions were put into place, it would save two customers calling to customer service, which represents a completion rate of 25%!

Be the user testing point of reference in your organisation

After almost a year of conducting interviews and holding workshops with customers, I realised that it really wasn’t hard to implement a User Testing strategy into business as usual, even in a large organisation.

An agile environment is perfectly appropriate to initiate a usability testing routine. Taking advantage of each sprint review helped identify any deliveries or components that should be tested with customers before being launched. This also reminded the team of the insights collects during the previous test sessions on similar topics, to feed in the upcoming design phases.

If budget allows it, look at resourcing a professional usability testing specialist or team to help plan sessions, recruit customers and analyse findings. If not, look into the feasibility of doing testing with colleagues or relatives to gather feedback on your product, identify UI issues or pain points, or understand why customers give up at certain points on their online journey.

Another critical activity is to invite your team to a workshop, watch the interviews, understand the findings and collaboratively work on solutions to tackle the main issues encountered by customers. You’ll then need to test these solutions again and compare the new results with the initial ones to measure how well the solutions work.

So, why not start testing tomorrow? If you need a little help to get started, Steve Krug’s “Rocket Surgery Made Easy” makes for some good reading and it’s a great guide to setting up a quick-and-easy test routine.